When wide receiver Mike Wallace left the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency last season, it made fourth-year receiver Antonio Brown the top dog among wide receivers, pushing him up the depth chart as the clear number one for the first time in his career.
There were questions about whether or not he could produce to the level of a true number one receiver, but he answered them with last season’s performance, catching 110 passes—two shy of tying the franchise record—for 1499 yards—blowing past the previous record.
His eight touchdown passes—and another on a punt return—proved that he can get the ball in the end zone after his previous high was just five scores in a year.
But his consistency of at least five receptions for at least 50 yards in every game of the season was unprecedented in league history, and it vaulted him to second-team All-Pro status.
With both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery also vacating the premises in free agency this offseason, it’s now Brown’s time not just to be the top dog, but to be the leader, despite being just 25 years old until July.
Scott Brown of ESPN, in fact, argues that it’s incumbent upon him to do so, because he put himself in that leadership role earlier this year.
Antonio Brown threw down the gauntlet for his locker room, and it’s his responsibility now to pick it up and challenge himself to make good on his remarks, he writes.
Those remarks, of course, were directed at former Steelers safety Ryan Clark regarding some comments that he made over the past year, including acknowledging that some of his own teammates with the Steelers use marijuana.
Brown, recognizing that the locker room has had some issues, both internally and externally, in recent seasons, took it upon himself to defend the locker room.
Brown acknowledged that there were some concerns, such as reports of fractions within the locker room and one anonymous player calling out former Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley for supposed lapses in work ethic.
Brown writes for ESPN that, now that he has put himself in this position, he “has to assume the lead in making sure there are no divisions in the Steelers’ locker room moving forward”.
More to the point, it’s now his responsibility to assure “that there are no agendas that are incompatible with the Steelers returning to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus and re-establishing themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders”.
Fortunately, it has seemed all along that it’s a level of responsibility that Brown is ready not only to accept, but to embrace. As the senior wide receiver on the team, it’s up to him—and Lance Moore—to help foster the growth of young receivers such as Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and Justin Brown.
In his own words: “I’ve got to set the tempo, have a leadership role and explain to guys assignments and what is expected”.
As Brown concludes in his article, the receiver “took the lead in outlining what is expected” in the locker room for the Steelers. Now that he has done so, “his next step is making sure others follow him in upholding that standard”, and I’m inclined to agree.